Solo Metagaming and how to avoid it

Secret doors, trapped chests, cursed magic items, enemies patrolling around the corner, betrayal from a close friend.

All these -and even more, when presented in a game by the GM provide a surprise element which can be exhilarating for the players. They are crucial for certain game types such as horror and mystery.

All is good then for a table full of players and a good GM, but what happens when you play alone?

Metagaming cannot be avoided at all cases, but it can be minimized.

Of course, if you don’t care about the player experience and just want a good narrative, this is not for you, because this comes at the cost of a good narrative.

Rule #1: The Oracle should answer the bare minimum.

Imagine real Oracles. Pythia was asked How can the Greeks defeat the Persians? and her answer was The wooden walls will save you!.

Of course you don’t have to be cryptic, but don’t turn the answer into You will defeat the Persians in naval battle in Salamis straits.

Rule #2: Whenever condition you want to ask can be resolved by the game ruleset, use that, instead of asking The Oracle.

If there is a perception skill, use it to find out if your character can see anything. If there are only classes and levels, ask The Oracle.

Rule #3: Mix Rules #1 and #2. Once you know that your character could have seen something because he is perceptive (successful roll), then ask The Oracle. The fact that your elven scout is eagle-eyed doesn’t mean there is something to see.

Rule #4: When you can’t avoid metagaming, use it. So you asked a question you shouldn’t and you learned that the bandit who blocks your way is in fact hired by the local sheriff. Then you must deliver this information to your character as soon as possible (preferably in the same scene) and try to do it without acting on it before knowing it. Maybe the bandits are haughty “Sheriff Smith surely delivered when he told us about the four strangers carrying gold in their caskets! At them boys!”.

The switch between ruleset and oracle resolutions should happen according to the event type, see below.

Action Events

These are events driven by the player.

In those, you roll first the game mechanic. If there is a success then you also ask The Oracle. The actions must be defined specifically. If you search for traps, you can’t ask The Oracle if there is hidden treasure.

Examples:

The dwarf scout searches for secret doors. Roll Success! Q: Is there a secret door?

The halfling thief pickpockets the merchant. Roll Success! Q: What does the merchant carry?

The elf wizard casts a premonition spell. Roll Failure! Can’t ask the Oracle.

Reaction Events

These are events that are triggered as a reaction to the player. If there is a chance for something to happen you ask The Oracle.

Examples:

The warrior opens the chest hidden below the goblin throne. Q: Is it trapped? A: Yes!, Roll Perception to notice it or Dexterity to avoid it, whichever is higher.

Transition Events

These are events that occur while transitioning from one scene to the next. This all plays out before any player actions or reactions.

Something that the characters see which is clearly evident, common knowledge, or a chance to trigger a passive character skill.

Examples:

The players’ starship emerged from hyperspace to a new system. Make a Passive Sensors roll to see if the ship detects anything without actively searching for it. Whether the sensors roll succeeds or fails, continue with Oracle questions. If the sensors roll was successful, then the characters may have a chance to act first (roll if the other side detects them as well). If the sensors roll fails, then the event supposed that the other side has detected them already (if no one had detected each other there would be no event).

Passive Events

These are events occurring at downtime or behind the scenes.

The player has no say in them, and usually they are not known.

As a generic rule these are handled through Oracles, as Interventions (MUNE), Exceptional Yes/No (CRGE) or whatever the Oracle calls them.

Examples:

The heroes killed a wanted thief. Unbeknownst to them he was part of the thieves guild, and now they have a bounty to their head. There will be assassins hunting them down, but all this information will become known as the intervention unfolds.

Where to stop

Don’t overdo it. These rules are supposed to help avoid metagaming, not bog down the game with strict guidelines and questions. In the end, it’s your game. Do what you want as long as you have fun!